« PreviousContinue »
JACKSON, J., dissenting.
People v. Croswell, supra, in that the Illinois court here instructed the jury, in substance, that if it found that defendant published this leaflet he must be found guilty of criminal libel.
Rulings of the trial court precluded the effort to justify statements of fact by proving their truth. The majority opinion concedes the unvarying recognition by the States that truth plus good motives is a defense in a prosecution for criminal libel. But here the trial court repeatedly refused defendant's offer of proof as to the truth of the matter published. Where an offer to prove the dominant element of a defense is rejected as immaterial, we can hardly refuse to consider defendant's constitutional question because he did not go through the useless ceremony of offering proof of a subsidiary element of the defense. If the court would not let him try to prove he spoke truth, how could he show that he spoke truth for good ends? Furthermore, the record indicates that defendant was asked to state what he had meant by the use of certain phrases, and the reason for forming the White Circle League_statements which apparently bore on the issue of motive and ends. But the trial court sustained a sweeping objection “to this whole line of examination." The Supreme Court of Illinois noted the offer of proof of truth and its exclusion, and apparently went on to rule as a matter of law that the statement was not published for justifiable ends. At all events, it is clear that the defense was ruled out as matter of law and defendant was never allowed to present it for decision by either court or jury upon the facts, a practice which I think is contrary to the overwhelming verdict of Anglo-Saxon history and practice. I do not intimate that this defendant stood even a remote chance of justifying what impresses me, as it did the trial court, as reckless and vicious libel. But the point is that his evidence, proffered for that purpose, was excluded instead of being
JACKSON, J., dissenting.
received and evaluated. Society has an interest in preserving truth as a justification, however obrioxious the effort may be. A publication which diffuses its attack over unnamed and impersonal multitudes is likely to be harder to justify than one which concentrates its attack on named individuals, but the burden may properly be cast on an accused and punishment follow failure to
The same may be said of the right to comment upon matters of public interest insofar as the statement includes matters of opinion, a point, however, which the defense may have inadequately raised. When any naturally cohesive or artificially organized group possesses a racial or sectarian solidarity which is or may be exploited to influence public affairs, that group becomes a legitimate subject for public comment. Of course, one can only deplore the habitual intemperance and bitter disparagement which characterizes most such comment. While I support the right of a State to place decent bounds upon it, I am not ready to hold that group purposes, characteristics and histories are to be immunized from comment or may be discussed only at the risk of prosecution free of all usual safeguards.
Another defense almost universally recognized, which it seems the jury were not allowed to consider here, is that of privilege. Petition for redress of grievances is specifically privileged by many State Constitutions. I do not think we should hold this whole document to be constitutionally privileged just because, in part, it simulates a petition for redress of grievances. A court or jury could have found that its primary purpose was not to petition but to appeal for members and contributions to the White Circle League. If some part of it were privileged, that, so it has been held, does not extend constitutional protection to unprivileged matter. Cf. Valentine v. Chrestensen, 316 U. S. 52. But the question of privilege seems
JACKSON, J., dissenting.
not to have been specifically passed on by the court and certainly was not submitted for the jury's consideration.
In this case, neither the court nor jury found or were required to find any injury to any person, or group, or to the public peace, nor to find any probability, let alone any clear and present danger, of injury to any of these. Even though no individuals were named or described as targets of this pamphlet, if it resulted in a riot or caused injury to any individual Negro, such as being refused living quarters in a particular section, house or apartment, or being refused employment, certainly there would be no constitutional obstacle to imposing civil or criminal liability for actual results. But in this case no actual violence and no specific injury was charged or proved.
The leaflet was simply held punishable as criminal libel per se irrespective of its actual or probable consequences. No charge of conspiracy complicates this case. The words themselves do not advocate the commission of any crime. The conviction rests on judicial attribution of a likelihood of evil results. The trial court, however, refused to charge the jury that it must find some "clear and present danger," and the Supreme Court of Illinois sustained conviction because, in its opinion, the words used had a tendency to cause a breach of the peace.
Referring to the clear and present danger doctrine in Dennis v. United States, 341 U. S. 494, 568, I said:
“I would save it, unmodified, for application as a 'rule of reason' in the kind of case for which it was devised. When the issue is criminality of a hot-headed speech on a street corner, or circulation of a few incendiary pamphlets, or parading by some zealots behind a red flag, or refusal of a handful of school children to salute our flag, it is not beyond the capacity of the judicial process to gather, comprehend, and weigh the necessary materials for decision whether it is a clear and present danger of
JACKSON, J., dissenting.
substantive evil or a harmless letting off of steam. It is not a prophecy, for the danger in such cases has matured by the time of trial or it was never present. The test applies and has meaning where a conviction is sought to be based on a speech or writing which does not directly or explicitly advocate a crime but to which such tendency is sought to be attributed by construction or by implication from external circumstances. The formula in such cases favors freedoms that are vital to our society, and, even if sometimes applied too generously, the consequences cannot be grave. ..."
Not the least of the virtues of this formula in such tendency cases is that it compels the prosecution to make up its mind what particular evil it sought or is seeking to prevent. It must relate its interference with speech or press to some identifiable evil to be prevented. Words on their own account are not to be punished in such cases but are reachable only as the root of punishable evils.
Punishment of printed words, based on their tendency either to cause breach of the peace or injury to persons or groups, in my opinion, is justifiable only if the prosecution survives the “clear and present danger” test. It is the most just and workable standard yet evolved for determining criminality of words whose injurious or inciting tendencies are not demonstrated by the event but are ascribed to them on the basis of probabilities.
Its application is important in this case because it takes account of the particular form, time, place, and manner of communication in question. "The moving picture screen, the radio, the newspaper, the handbill, the sound truck and the street corner orator have differing natures, values, abuses and dangers. Each, in my view, is a law unto itself ..., Kovacs v. Cooper, 336 U. S. 77, 97. It would consider whether a leaflet is so emotionally exciting to immediate action as the spoken word, especially
JACKSON, J., dissenting.
the incendiary street or public speech. Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U. S. 1, 13; Kunz v. New York, 340 U. S. 290, 295. It will inquire whether this publication was obviously so foul and extreme as to defeat its own ends, whether its appeals for money—which has a cooling effect on many persons—would not negative its inflammatory effect, whether it would not impress the passer-by as the work of an irresponsible who needed mental examination.
One of the merits of the clear and present danger test is that the triers of fact would take into account the realities of race relations and any smouldering fires to be fanned into holocausts. Such consideration might well warrant a conviction here when it would not in another and different environment.
Group libel statutes represent a commendable desire to reduce sinister abuses of our freedoms of expressionabuses which I have had occasion to learn can tear apart a society, brutalize its dominant elements, and persecute, even to extermination, its minorities. While laws or prosecutions might not alleviate racial or sectarian hatreds and may even invest scoundrels with a specious martyrdom, I should be loath to foreclose the States from a considerable latitude of experimentation in this field. Such efforts, if properly applied, do not justify frenetic forebodings of crushed liberty. But these acts present most difficult policy and technical problems, as thoughtful writers who have canvassed the problem more comprehensively than is appropriate in a judicial opinion have well pointed out.21
No group interest in any particular prosecution should forget that the shoe may be on the other foot in some prosecution tomorrow. In these, as in other matters, our
21 Tanenhaus, Group Libel, 35 Cornell L. Q. 261; Riesman, Democracy and Defamation: Control of Group Libel, 42 Col. L. Rev. 727; see also Vote, 1 Bflo. L. Rev. 258.